By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — When Posh Paws, a pet store on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, opened five years ago, they sold the kind of low-end dog food normally found in supermarkets.
Today, the store sells holistic and organic dog foods — and starting this week, they'll begin offering grooming.
"In just a couple of years I've seen a change," said Katy Kishida, 34, manager of Posh Paws. "There's definitely a different clientele. As the neighborhood changes, so have we."
It's just one of the ways dog owners say that Harlem is becoming more pooch-friendly. With expanded pet services, buildings that are dog-friendly, new dog runs and stores that now allow four-legged shoppers — as long as they're on leashes — the neighborhood is becoming a haven for dog-lovers.
"I find Harlem to be very dog-friendly," said Matthew Holmgren, 38, a real estate financier who brought his Cotton de Tulear named DeGaulle into Posh Paws to arrange a grooming.
But Holmgren said he can tell that Harlem is still a neighborhood in transition when it comes to dogs. He has a dog even though his building has a no-pet policy because of a misprint in the lease.
And there are still people who are so frightened of his dog that they cross the street, like an elderly woman he runs across during morning walks.
"You can tell some people were not raised around animals and are a bit skittish, especially when they cross the street when they see you coming," Holmgren said. "But most of the store owners are accepting. They let you in to do your business as long as the dog behaves."
Steve Kliegerman, executive director of Halstead Property Development Marketing, has worked in Harlem for almost a decade. New buildings located close to parks and dog runs are making a lot of clients happy, he said.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in the total number of buyers with pets in Harlem," said Kliegerman. "The new condos and co-ops typically don't have pet restrictions and because of that those buildings are more in demand for pet lovers because they don't have to worry about the rules changing."
At two buildings Halstead represents, the nearby park amenities have become factors in helping dog owners choose the location as home. At Fifth on the Park, a 28-story condominium building at 120th Street and Fifth Avenue, approximately 25 percent of the owners have dogs. Just across the street in Marcus Garvey Park is a popular dog run.
Several buyers at 88 Morningside Ave., a 12-story condo building located at West 122nd Street across from Morningside Park, have been helped in their decision to purchase by the dog run across the street.
Patricia Irvin, 56, a former Wall Street lawyer turned real estate investor was looking for a dog-friendly building when she moved from the Upper East Side in August 2009 because she wanted a place that could accommodate her mom and her mom's companion, Molly, a poodle and terrier mix she purchased to keep her mom company after her father died. She also planned to get a dog of her own.
But after her mother passed away recently, Molly became a full-time Harlem resident. "She loves the park and there are so many people with dogs up here," Irvin said.
She takes Molly to Marcus Garvey Park at least twice a day and the quick walk to Central Park also makes the area a great location.
"Every day, I have a conversation with a stranger and it's just because of my dog," said Irvin.
Brad Taylor, a board member and former president of Friends of Morningside Park, said the dog run is a big selling point in the area and has helped to revitalize the park.
"It was sighted very purposely in an area that had a lot of problems with drug users and other illicit activities going on," Taylor said. "And because it gets visitors all times of the day, the community of dog users has driven out the not so savory uses going on in the park."
Kliegerman said developers of future buildings in Harlem are considering steps to make the area even more pet-friendly. Some downtown buildings have dedicated dog-washing areas in the basement and at least one Harlem developer is considering that for an upcoming project.
"No building I'm ever involved with in Harlem will not be pet-friendly," said Lewis Futterman, a co-developer of Fifth on the Park as he played with Molly outside of the building. "People love having their dogs here."
But there are still issues preventing Harlem from becoming a complete dog haven, said dog owners. One is fellow dog owners who don't clean up after their pets.
"I would like to see people cleaning up after their dogs because I've seen very few people cleaning up," Holmgren said. "It makes the neighborhood look bad and gives us dog owners a bad reputation."
He's so vexed by the problem that he's considering an effort to place plastic bags at strategic locations along Frederick Douglass Boulevard. Irvin said there are also issues with people cleaning up after their dogs at the Marcus Garvey Park dog run. Some owners have started gathering once a month to clean the run themselves.
There are also a lot of un-spayed pit bull mixes in the neighborhood, some of whom are aggressive, said Kishida. Glenn Turnbull, who was visiting the shop, pointed out a photo on the wall of a small dog that was killed by a pit bull in the area a few months ago.
"You can sometimes tell the dogs are used for fighting," Kishida said.
Despite the issues, Kishida said she knew Harlem surpassed the dog tipping point when national pet retailer PetSmart arrived at the East River Plaza mall in East Harlem.
"They are like the Walmart of pet stores," said Kishida. "Them coming to the area is like when the Starbucks arrived here a few years ago. I said: 'This neighborhood is beginning to change.'"